On Oreste Casalini’s recent works by Paolo Aita

What did Empedocles find when he threw himself into the volcano?
There are journeys which do not contemplate a return. Probably every philosophical journey is such a
journey, because one starts off without a known itinerary, without the words which can reveal what is
discovered, so every journey coincides essentially with finding the way to recount it. It is probable that
with the term Romanticism, art with no canons, with no classical rules, a style into which Oreste Casalini
can fit, we highlight the journeys which are particularly dangerous, those where there is no safe return, or
which bring us home somewhat diminished, as happened to Holderlin, reduced to madness after his
journey, so much so that he changed his name to Scardanelli.
A work of art could be the story of a journey to discover the place where beauty dwells. It must be sought
out, cajoled, seduced so that it will reveal itself to us, and so the artist is also a wooer, a monotonous Don
Juan, solely obsessed with the relationship with his muse. Art commands a fundamental obduracy, a
never failing intensity to exploit the acme, the peak, the represented delirium. So every link with excess
inevitably brings with it a theological dimension, a dimension which underlines the fact that values which
are particularly important have been questioned. Debate with deities, metaphysical proofs, supreme
temptation, any element which assumes a special value for our lives carries with it the marks of what is
tremendous, which, in turn, emphasises our relationship with everything sacred. This terminology is not of
my devising, but is to be associated with Rilke, who attributes it to the angel, whose piercing gaze is
impossible to bear. Oreste Casalini has always dabbled with what is tremendous. Instead of finding
aesthetic signs corresponding to a form, in his works the trait d’union is this loyalty towards the search for
representation at its highest. A wooing of delirium. There are other authors in this aesthetic dimension.
Leaving aside Turner and Van Gogh, we must however mention Breton. His novel Nadja ends with the
reflection that “beauty shall be convulsive or it will not exist”. This idea can also be applied to Oreste
Casalini, who time after time, with each successive exhibition, seems to be increasing the amount of
Although he started off from a multi-articulated dimension of an existential tale, Oreste Casalini with his
new works investigates the possibilities of the installation, of the fecundation of a space into which we
are invited as spectators, where we are asked to accept the convulsions, to follow him in his delirium. In
order to reach this result his materials are used in a manner to which we are not accustomed. In western
culture any representation of fury is directed one way. There is only one representation of excess which
goes from Ulysses who exterminates the Proci, Penelope’s suitors, to Jackson Pollock: it is an excess of
energy which is impossible to contain, therefore not capable of representation, an excess of fury which
produces an aesthetic deviance through signs which on the contrary should contain a form, an order. In
the West beauty is the rule which embodies man, thus the composition and the representation of reason
and excess exist together. In the East however the concept of form which bridles instinct is completely
absent: the integration of the artist with nature is total, so there is no measure, no “ perfect quantity”, no
external way leading to nature (determined on the basis of calculations relative to decency, to the Latin
decus, and anyhow often external to art), which can establish the correct level of arbitrariness, of
subjectivity or of “physicality”. In the East, thanks to a religious concept which is completely different from
ours, where opposites of equal value confront one another, it is a fact that the concept of evil as a sin
does not exist. There is a dialogue of opposing excesses which reach calm and beauty balancing one with
the other, remaining at least inside nature, where it is necessary for that which exists to express itself,
even its inevitable negative part, without the filter offered by aesthetics. The latest works by Orests
Casalini are an arena of forces which finally find an integral expression. In these works the
“convulsiveness” is to be found in the total absence of aesthetic determents, of filters relative to taste and
to that which is “custom made”, that which according to social properness would be correct to include in
the work, and which thus incorporates much more than it should.
We are in the presence of intermediate beings, living in a world of suspended meetings, in a suspended
state, between the human and the divine. Obviously the face is absent, not because it has been erased,
but because it is too present, lacking distance which cannot be translated into language. It is also not
translatable because any intimate discourse is missing. The angel expresses itself in all the languages of
the world all at once, it is the opposite of parousia. While the ability to speak in all the languages of the
world comes to the disciples as an extreme gift from Christ, in the angel it is the loss of that single
language, that of paradise, confusion, excess of humanity, excess love which is not justifiable for humans,
it is inferior. Here Iacopone is always valid, for him, through the Madonna, God deigned to become man
because of his infinite love for all human beings. The final transfiguration of this knowledge comes in
Angels over Berlin, a film which would have been impossible to make without the reflections of Benjamin,
where the angel weeps for man.
Beauty always causes suffering because that very beauty is lacking elsewhere. In this lies the whole
western theory of the impossibility of creating a body as a representation of beauty. These bodies
represent this fact, but no one can say if they are truly beautiful because it is not given to us to know
whether they are of the same ideal nature as beauty itself, or whether that particular body is beautiful
because it is well formed. These bodies are beautiful because they open the door to all possible questions
regarding beauty. What is angelic is the metaphor which cloaks in quality and characteristics all that
cannot be uttered. For this reason Oreste Casalini can project onto these bodies anything he likes, he can
make them say anything. In exactly the same way does the lover project his love onto his loved one, and
in the same way the incarnation of all that is spiritual takes place: in each case the body is not seen in its
specificity. It is only imaginable; invisible because it is indeclinable. Convulsive because that body is us.
We believe a body to be beautiful if it manages to cover beauty in a convenient way, but if truth be told,
of the underlying beauty we know nothing, and without beauty we do not know either if that body is
beautiful or not. Consequently we deem a body beautiful by taking an unknown value as a point of
reference, buried inside it. These, therefore, are figures of a Nike of defeat, of a frustrated attempt to give a
face to that which invades us , and which is not visible because we are sustained by such a strong desire
that, if it were to be represented, would be scandalous, so we cannot admit our own indecency. Besides ,
it must be added that this love, amor dei, is by its own definition perfect: if it had defects it would be less
ideal, it would be earthly, and would unleash the critics’ praise, which has no reason to exist in a land of
pure idealistic context such as that of art. Therefore those who see them cannot admit the “earthliness” of
these bodies, although this is the only element which provokes a dialogue. So, inevitably, the ideal is
faceless, without any representation. It can be said that these sculptures embody different Nike of defeat
as it is impossible to tell if they come into being thanks to the love of the divine, or owing to a kind of
knowledge transfigured into beauty by the work of art.
There is a cavity present in both sculptures, where echoes of a former materiality live. If we cast our minds
back to antiquity we know that satyrs dwelt in cavities, representatives of all things feral. Therefore I ask
myself why in these statues should there be a void, which for the ancient idea of beauty was always
considered horrific, to such an extent that it was thought to give shelter to undesirable beings, a void,
where instead the only desire was to create fullness, thus beauty, onto which even images and voices
could be projected. Here I see the desire to include even the representation of failure, the artist’s
awareness of not having been able to give form to the ideal. To harbour the void means to resign oneself
to something that cannot be represented, to something interminable, it means trying to stem the
onslaught of the failure to represent the ideal, and despite this, to welcome whatever cannot be
The convulsiveness which I mentioned reaches thus an explanation: these bodies continue to move, to
generate images, even making them come to life on their skin, as though they had witnessed the
attempts to associate them with all that is human, a mimesis. The works wishes to be almost chameleon –
like in order to grasp at speed the ideal made relative by what is human. It will probably be necessary to
rediscover the human and the divine together, the co – presence of the angel, perhaps even Paradise,
through a synaesthesia, through an ever changing meeting of the arts, like a ball held forever on high by
a juggler.